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Google Search Donations: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know Before They Sign Up for the Google Donate Button

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Google has recently introduced a new, easy way to donate to nonprofits called Google Search Donations, but before you run to go and sign up, you should read this post.

Introduced leading up to Giving Tuesday, Google has added a new ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up in the right information panel when you search for some nonprofit organizations.

Google Search Donations

The good news is that unlike Facebook that charges a 5% transaction fee, Google claims that 100% of the donation goes directly to the organization. Great Right?

How Google Search Donations Works

The functionality is pretty slick. One click of the Google Donate button and you can quickly complete your transaction in just two easy steps:

  1. First, you select your donation amount (if you don’t want to choose one of the gift array options, you can also add your own custom amount):Google Search Donations Array
  2. Second, you enter (or confirm) your payment information. If you have ever used Google Payments and asked Google to remember your payment information, all of those payment options will be displayed by default.Google Search Donations Payment

But here is where it gets a little interesting. If you read the fine print, you will see that the donation actually doesn’t go directly to the organization. It goes to Network for Good, a Donor Advised Fund. And they also get “exclusive legal control” of your contribution:

Google Search Donations Fine Print

If you are used to working with Donor Advised Funds (DAF), then you know that this is pretty standard procedure. DAFs act as a clearing house for individual donor contributions and make lump-sum distributions to donor-selected nonprofits based on funds collected on behalf of those nonprofits. The advantage of DAFs for smaller nonprofits is that they don’t have to invest in significant infrastructure to collect donations. In the example of Google Donate, smaller nonprofits can instantly have a ‘Donate Now’ button that shows up whenever anyone searches for their organization (by name) in Google.

What are the positives?

So, let’s list the positives about Google Search Donations:

  1. Google Search Donations is free. You’ll need to first set up a Google for Nonprofits account, but once you do that, enabling Google Search Donations is as simple as a few clicks to get set up.
  2. Google Search Donations is fast. Once you have the Google Search Donations Button activated, anytime someone searches for your organization in Google, a simple, two-step donation opportunity will show up in the right info panel on the search results page.
  3. Google Search Donations doesn’t require you to do anything except cash checks. All processing of the gift, receipting, and tax forms for the donor is completely handled by Google and Network for Good.
  4. There are no transaction fees for Google Search Donations. That means that your organization gets 100% of the donation made through the Google Donate Button.

Pretty sweet, right?

Well, let’s take a closer look.

Are there any downsides? Oh yes.

If you dig around a little bit, you will eventually stumble on to the FAQs. The first one is a killer:

Google does NOT provide the nonprofit with the contact information for donors that make a gift using Google Search Donations.

Everyone knows that the key to building a lifelong relationship with your donors is regular, consistent, and relevant communication. In fact, even Google knows this and acknowledges it in the FAQ! But, they still aren’t giving you the names and contact information for your donors. OUCH!

To me, this is a killer. It’s why I originally hated text-to-give in its early configuration—because no matter how many $10 gifts I get from phone companies, I have no way of even thanking my donors for their gift. And Google Search Donations seems to be making the same mistake with their Google Donate Button.

Fundraising is not just a transaction. It is a relationship. And even though big tech companies like Google acknowledge that, they still don’t understand the profundity of that simple idea and how essential it is for us when it comes to retaining and growing our relationship with our donors.

And not receiving the donor contact information also creates more complexity and confusion in the mind of your donor.

It’s not just tough for fundraisers; it’s confusing for donors.

For example, gifts made through the Google donations system can’t be receipted by your organization:

So, follow me on this little mental journey a donor goes on when they give a donation using Google Search Donations:

  1. A prospective donor that has never given a gift to you before receives an acquisition direct mail piece at their home.
  2. They open the letter; read it, become completely inspired by your cause, and are compelled by your appeal. They decide to donate!
  3. But they don’t like messing around with a checkbook so they go to Google and search for your organization by name.
  4. The search results come up and in the right hand info panel of the page, they see your organization name and logo—the same logo that’s on the mail piece you mailed to them. And that’s when they spot the “Donate Now” button.
  5. Now, they use Amazon all the time and instinctively see this as a “one-click” donation option that will save them some time. Boom—two clicks and they are done! Wow, wasn’t that so easy!

Here’s where it gets rough…

Then, your brand-spanking new donor receives an email from Google and a receipt from Network for Good. They don’t even think anything of the receipt since they have never heard of Network for Good and their “receipt” just meshes together with the rest of the junk mail they typically receive.

But guess what never happens next—your donor never gets to hear from you. That donor that you most likely spent between $10 and $100 to acquire, is never going to give to you again.


Unless, of course they decide they actually want a refund. And they Google you again and this time go to your web site because they need to actually talk to someone to get a refund on their donation.

So they call and explain they made a donation to you, but because they never heard from you, they want their money back.

You go into your fancy CRM system, look them up, and try to explain to this obviously irritated donor that you show no record of their transaction.

Still, they persist. And so you give in out of the interest of trying to win over the upset donor and avoid some sort of negative social media tirade later that causes you to lose a Charity Navigator star.

You refund the amount of the gift.

Then you realize that this may have been a donation given through Google Search Donations via Network for Good. Maybe you can reach out to them and at least recoup the amount of the donation that you had to refund.

And then you find out that Google Search Donations does not give refunds:

I know, you probably feel like this right about now: 

Now, let me tell you what’s really jacked about Google Search Donations.

When donors give to your nonprofit using the Google Donate Button, they bypass your website, which means they are never exposed to the #1 factor that we have discovered most greatly influences: a) their probability of giving a gift, and b) the amount of their gift.

Do you know what that factor is?

The number one factor influencing online fundraising

This month we will publish our 1,000th online fundraising experiment. And based on all our experiments, spanning a combined sample of more than 123,424,714 donor interactions, we have found that the number one factor that influences giving behavior (that’s within your control) is the force of your organization’s value proposition. That’s it. It’s not ease of giving (although that is certainly a factor). It’s not the technology that you use (although that helps facilitate online gifts). And it’s not even how ‘pretty’ your web site is (in many cases pretty = poor performance—sorry to all my designer friends!).

What is the value proposition, you say? It’s the answer to a simple (yet extremely profound) question:

If I am your ideal donor, why should I give a gift to you, rather than some other organization (or not at all)?

Now, there is an incredible amount packed into this one simple question, so let’s take a moment to unpack it:

If I…

This is a first-person question, so it requires a first-person answer. And do you know who the first person is? Here’s a hint—it’s not you! It’s your donor. This question needs to be answered from the perspective of your donor. But you have a significant problem here right from the start—you are not your donor. If you try to answer this question from your point of view, you will completely miss the mark. So, what are you to do? How can you answer this question from your donor’s point of view? The answer is Research. You need to start by researching your donor and beginning to piece together:

  • Who they are (demographics)
  • Where they come from (analytics)
  • What interests them (psychographics)

Until you form a basic understanding of your donors, you will be shooting completely in the dark.

…ideal donor….

But hold on—it’s not just any donor’s perspective, it’s your ideal donor’s perspective that you are after. That means you need to get really clear on who your best donors are and be willing to focus all of your attention on them. That also means that you must be willing to accept tradeoffs. In other words, you have to be willing to accept that you can’t expect to reach everyone with your message—only those who are the best fit for you and your organization (i.e. that may mean that you need to stop trying to reach Millennials!!).

…why should I…

A value proposition is not your mission statement. It’s not what you do. And it’s not your three-point plan. Ultimately, a value proposition is a reason. It is a reason why someone should move from their status quo and take a new action. For you, that means donate. And so, a value proposition is essentially an argument. You need to ‘make your case’ before the jury of potential donors. You need to appeal to both their emotions and their intellect. You must inspire them.

Here’s a hint: if your value proposition statements don’t begin with the word because it’s probably not a value proposition.

…rather than some other organization….

In order for it to be strong, your value proposition must be unique; it must be exclusive. It must be something that you do that no one else can do—or something you do better than anyone else. If your value proposition has an -est modifier (biggest, fastest, strongest), or a most differentiator (most efficient, most trusted, most effective), then that’s a good start.

Now, I know, we don’t like to ever talk about competition in the not-for-profit space. After all, we are all making the world a better place, right? We are all inspiring people to be generous. One of my mentors once put it so eloquently, “there is not competition among lighthouses.”

But the reality is that we compete every day for donor dollars. Data suggests that although the amount of money that is donated to charity continues to grow, the number of individuals that are giving continues to shrink. That means the total universe of ‘probable’ donors is shrinking. So not only do we need to acknowledge that competition in the nonprofit space exists, but we need to prepare for even more fierce competition for donor dollars in the future.

…(or not at all).

And to further exacerbate the issue of competition, we need to acknowledge the null hypothesis. That is, the donor has a third option. They can decide to give to you. They can decide to give to some other organization. Or, they can decide to not give at all!

What this means is that we are not just competing against other nonprofits, but against every organization on planet earth (both nonprofit and for-profit) that is trying to generate revenue. This means that your value proposition either needs to be so compelling that it moves your donor to give to you rather than buy something for themselves.

I know that is a lot to digest, so let me give you a little bit of a break to process that by showing you a few experiments that illustrate the power of the value proposition in action.

Experiment #111 – How Copy on a Donation Page Affects the Force of a Value Proposition

I love this experiment because it is so clean and so perfectly illustrates the power of the value proposition on your donation page. The most dangerous mistake you can make is to assume that your potential donor firmly grasps your value proposition by the time they click on the ‘Donate’ button and land on your donation page.

I liken it to fishing. If you have ever been fishing then you know that once you hook a big fish, you can’t just put your pole down and expect the fish to swim into shore of its own accord. Any seasoned angler knows that the key to landing a big fish is to keep the tip up—keep the tension on the line—and keep reeling until you land the fish on dry land.

Tim Kachuriak with a fish
(yes, that’s me with a ‘bow I caught in Broken Bow, OK)

The same is true on your donation page—you need to continue to ‘sell’ the donation all the way through the transaction.

Here are a few more experiments from our research library that highlight this point:

Experiment #6623 – How Value Proposition Impacts Donation Conversion

[exp id=”6623″ title=”false”]

Experiment #3793 – How a radical redesign of the value proposition affects donation conversion rate 

[exp id=”3793″ title=”false”]

Experiment #1780 – How the right value proposition can impact donation conversion rate

[exp id=”1780″ title=”false”]

And finally, check out this last experiment that illustrates how dangerous it is to bypass the value proposition by introducing a “quick donate” button that skips past your copy:

What I really think about Google Search Donations

So as you can see, value proposition is extremely important to your online fundraising success. And that’s why when I see new technologies like Google Search Donations, I’m always a little bit leery. I think the Google Donate Button is a step in the right direction. And I love the spirit behind this initiative—Google and Network for Good are obviously trying to make giving easier for donors so that they give more to causes that inspire them.

But instead of bypassing the nonprofit’s web site, I wish that the Google Donate button actually took you directly to the organization’s donation page—or at least make that an option! That would undoubtedly send significantly more traffic to this critical conversion pathway by creating a shortcut for donors to jump right to the place where they can make their gift.

And if organizations can benefit from a boost to traffic to their donation pages, then we could validate experiments faster, which means we can learn faster what works and what doesn’t. And if we can validate experiments faster, we can accelerate our mission of decoding what makes people give so we can unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world!

Published by Tim Kachuriak

Tim Kachuriak is Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer of NextAfter.